I would write something about New Year here, however it is the 13th, and the atmosphere in Brighton seems to have settled into the January dark evenings and skint wallet effect, so just take this as a new year nod!
If you follow me on social media, you will know that the last 6 weeks have been a bit of a sewing/working issue as my son has been very poorly, and we have stayed in hospital for a while, so things were up in the air. He is doing well now, back to school so normal service has resumed. A little bit of sewing got done – I always keep a box of fabric, templates, thread and scissors that I take around with me when I travel and my husband popped it up the hospital. Hand sewing is my therapy, so did lots of sewing at his bedside.
The piece I was working on currently looks like this…
and will not be much larger so I will start filling in the edges. It started as I had about five rosettes from class samples, and wanted to do something with them. I have lots of hexie samples, so elongated these, and turned them into a grandmothers flower garden.
We also got a day out in London last week, and got to the Knitwear exhibition at the Fashion and Textile museum in Bermondsey. Really enjoyed it, lots to see, but as the exhibits were grouped by theme it flowed really well. It was amusing explaining to my daughter what I had heard about knitted swimsuits on Brighton beach when my mum was a child! It closes this weekend.
No photos allowed (unfortunately) but took a photo outside – amuses me how the road sign points to the banner.
To round off my new year nod, my things (not using the r word here) this year are a sketchbook project I am working on from a history book, to work on my range of patterns, and to be a little bit more experimental in my quilting. I plan to share the work here over the year, so keep your eyes peeled.
Lots on one to one tutoring has been going on this autumn at Studio QP. I think I have mentioned on here before how much I like this side of my work. After getting the email or call to book the session, I usually have an inkling what is coming out of the bag, but it is sometimes a complete surprise. One of the things I love about working like this is that I get to hear stories behind the the reason the quilt is being made. However, with this session I only got the latest instalment of why the quilt was being made, as it was bought in a charity shop and so its first maker is unknown.
It is no secret how much hand sewn quilts get me all a flutter, so this box of treats meant I almost needed a paper bag to breathe into! Jess, who booked the session, had bought the patchwork in a charity shop in Hove. There was a lot of unfinished patchwork in these boxes, and she wanted a way to finish at least one of them into something usable. We looked at the contents of the box, and decided this was the best one to finish…
It has lots of lovely pattern and prints, but the whole top is currently rhomboid as pieces have randomly been joined together. There were lots of tacked hexagons in the box, so we sorted and laid them out to work out how Jess could make the quilt top square. The prints are amazing – an assortment of clothes and household textiles. We loved the way it had been constructed, just pieces joined together, individual hexagons, circular rosettes, and random shapes. There were papers still in most of the patchwork, a very thin paper, most of them from pools coupons and football results. We spotted a year, 1977, on one of the pieces of paper.
The back is just as beautiful as the front, showing the blocks of colour.
The second large piece was darker, and had lots of dress cottons. It didn’t lay flat, due to odd pieces of fabric in non geometric shapes being pieced in. The fabrics are wonderful though.
There was a piece cut out of one side, for another project. As this piece of patchwork will not lay flat, Jess is planning to do this with the rest of it – to cut into it to make pieces to cover a footstool or something similar.
There were also these experimental pieces (I did say this box was FULL of treats!).
It was a pleasure to work on this project, and Jess is going to come back when it gets to the quilting stage. I can’t wait to see the quilt develop, and am so pleased that it did not get thrown away, and was bought by someone who is going to work on it to make something to be used in the home.
So after spending the first half of the day at The People’s History Museum (more about this in Part 1), we walked the short distance to the Museum of Science and Industry. It looks huge, but we only had a couple of hours to spend there so headed straight to the textile gallery. Luckily (for us) we timed it perfectly with the demonstration of the textile machinery. The textile gallery is well laid out, with the machines being in the centre of the room and slightly lower so visitors can get a good view of them. The demonstration gave a hint of the noise and dust these machines caused. I cannot imagine it was a pleasant way to earn a living (unless you were the owner of course!). The demonstration started with the raw cotton in big containers about to be carded…
We then saw the machines spinning the cotton.
The cotton goes through several machines to get to the strength required to weave it. I love this photo…
The mule was the machine that really caught the children’s imagination. We heard awful stories of children working underneath these machines as they worked, and about written evidence of mill owners chaining children to the machine as they kept running away.
The last stage showed the cloth being woven. Lots of gruesome stories here to capture the children’s imagination, possibly the tales of large wooden bobbins flying out of the machines were the worst. We discovered that mills started putting the windows higher so the stray bobbins didn’t break glass – hitting a worker was obviously more acceptable as it cost less money than a window.
The guide was really good, and she answered lots of individual questions after the talk about the technical and social aspects of the 19th century cotton industry. I was interested to hear that the damp climate in Lancashire was good for producing cotton. I know a little about dyeing fabric and how the weather can affect it, but not a lot about spinning. When you see the process, from growing the plant to weaving, it makes you realise that perhaps cloth is not as expensive as we think.
I love going to stay with my older brothers family in Yorkshire, and know Leeds and Halifax pretty well by now (well the city centres anyway). I hadn’t been to over the Lancashire border to Manchester for a good five or six years, so this summer decided to have a day out there with my daughter and eldest niece. Always on the trail for some textile eye candy I planned a day at The People’s History Museum, followed by Museum of Science and Industry. As lots of photos were taken, I have split the day over two posts… We started the day at the People’s History Museum, and didn’t know what to expect. “Where are we going” the kids asked, “well, to a museum about democracy” I replied. Not really the answer the two bright and inquisitive, but My Little Pony and iPod obsessed girls would probably want. The museum was originally the National Museum of Labour History, but re-opened in 2010 as The People’s History Museum. Although the museum has its roots going back to the 1960s when a small collection of Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative society artefacts were collected by a society, its website notes it has no political affiliation. The collection is based around the history of democracy, the struggle for equality, and looks at how ordinary people lived their lives. My previous sentence makes it sound very serious, and while the subject matter is (the first exhibit is about the Peterloo Massacre), the displays are really interesting and thought provoking. It is also really family friendly. The trail my girls did (aged 8 and 9) captivated them, so while they looked for objects and information, I could look round with leisure. This is often a rare thing when taking the kids out. As well as the trail, there are lots of things they can touch, wear, and do. For example, they could time how long it takes them to make up match boxes, then compare their time to whether they would be able to make enough to eat and house their family (unfortunately the results were not good!). The main reason I wanted to visit was the museums collection of banners. It holds the largest collection of trade union and political banners in the world, and as well as displaying them, restores them. The banners are dotted about the exhibits, then on the upper floor there is a room where they are hanging. Here are some photos I took, excuse the quality as I did not use a flash… On the top floor there is a gallery with the banners hanging at full height – and they are huge! A lot of the ones hanging when we visited are from the 19th century, painted using oils, and made by commercial banner makers/sign writers. Behind these is a long room, with windows so you can see inside at what work is being done. This is where the museums banners, as well as textile items for other museums and individuals are worked on by conservationists.
A close up of one of the painted banners. This one is from the 1920s, oil paints on a jacquard silk fabric.
I, of course, was particularly interested in the stitched banners. This is a Suffrage Atelier banner, from about 1910. Silk and gold embroidery are among the techniques/materials used.
This banner is from The Primrose League, a conservative grass routes organisation. This banner is undated, but the organisation started in 1883.
I think this was my favourite banner. The Central Labour College was founded by a group of students and the dismissed dean of Ruskin College, Oxford in 1909. Its aim was to promote education for the working classes and was funded by trade unions. Aneurin Bevan was one graduate of the college. The banner is made from sateens and silks on hessian, and one of the embroiderers was the author Rebecca West
Here is a close up… I really like the effect of the stitching on hessian.
This book made me chuckle – what a dilemma to have…
A photo of this banner was taken for my husband. It is about the Professional Footballers Association, and was painted by John Midgely in 1991. The PFA was established in 1907, and the information about it notes that the footballers wage cap was abolished in 1961. Something which sparks a lively debate amongst football fans.
I also just had to take a photo of these. Football boots, once worn by Sir Stanley Matthews. I would love to see a premier league match played where the players had to wear these!
Downstairs there was a WWl exhibition, which in the ethos of the museum looked at the war from the perspective of the working classes. There is also a space dedicated to community exhibitions; the museum is very much active in the field it documents. The banners change yearly, so I will definitely go back next time I am in Manchester. It is free to get in, however I read this opinion piece in The Guardian earlier this week, which says that their funding is under risk. This would be such a shame as there is really nowhere quite like it.
So, the important bits for the girls; the shop and cafe were very good. They walked out wearing badges, and my Votes For Women postcard is up at work. Our next venue, the MOSI tied in really well with The Peoples History Museum, as the kids started to see what democracy has led to – education, holidays and not being tied to ruddy great big mill machines at the age of 7…
Ta ta summer – Autumn seems to be here, along with tights and boots!
I did quite a lot of travelling round the UK this summer…and here I am using my delay leaflets in my English Paper piecing (waste not want not as they say)
Mid August was Festival of Quilts, of course. I loved this quilt, made by Tracey Aplin and called “My Love for Liberty”. I admired the quilt, then was thrilled to discover I knew Tracey from quilt shows, and she came along to my talk in Canterbury last month. Isn’t it fabulous?!
Later in August I spent a week in Yorkshire with family. One of the places we visited was Bankfield Museum in Halifax. My brothers’ family live fairly near so I have been there quite a few times, and every time I go I desperately want to get some white gloves and and sneak into the achieves as they always have such lovely textiles.
The upper floor has a new exhibition based on WW1. Called “For King and Country” it draws on local stories, objects and images to discover what life was like at the time. All of us found it interesting and thought provoking. I was particularly interested by the garments on show as well as an excellent display of WW1 embroidered postcards.
Bankfield was originally a private house, and is amazing to look around. Imagine popping out of this door every day when you need a pint of milk…
While on our travels, we also had a textile day over to Manchester. However I will talk about this in a separate post later this week as we saw some amazing textile work, so the camera worked its socks off that day!
I am very lucky to be surrounded by creative inspiring people, and being of the nosy persuasion, I have asked a few of them if I can interview them here on my blog.
My first victim interviewee is Fiona Hesford who runs Sewgirl from her studio in Worthing. Sewgirl is another business similar to QP with different elements all coming under the textiles umbrella. At the moment Fiona teaches workshops from her home studio and at Clothkits in Chichester, the Fluff-a-torium in Dorking and My Crafty Soul in Cobham. She also designs and sells sewing kits through her website and via Not on the High Street, and prints fabric panels. Her work has featured in a book published by Lark, and her projects feature regularly in magazines such as Love Sewing and Simply Homemade.
I first met Fiona in early 2010 at a business workshop aimed at women start-ups run by Business Link and we have stayed in touch. I love the style of her work, and she is rather cool… so on with the Q&A…
So to start, a question students always ask me…what’s your sewing CV?
Well, since about the age of 10 I have always had sewing projects on the go, and I come from a sewing family – my grandmother was a tailoress and made us girls the same dress in different fabrics with matching headbands. I studied Fashion Textiles at Brighton (back in the Polytechnic days!), and worked as a knitwear designer. Those were exciting times, and I worked in Paris, Italy and Hong Kong.
After I had my children (now 16) I started getting more into home wares, and as I had twins I often made the same thing but with different motifs. This really got me into personalizing things. I carried on selling knitwear designs through an agent, but I fell in love with fabric and eventually packed my knitting machine away. I did however use the old knit samples to make toys.
Here is one of these toys. Fiona gave me a knitted lucky cat when I opened and I keep it in the studio, a little bit superstitious about it leaving similar to the ravens and the Tower of London!
What is the Sewgirl story?
The business was born at same time as the doll kit, late 2009/early 2010. Sewgirl was originally my first product, the screen-printed doll kits, but the name stuck. Naturally the doll kit fell by the wayside as I moved into other areas such as clothing and home textiles.
How has printing become part of your business?
I initially got into printing through my husband who is an artist and screen printer. We discussed ideas and tried some of them out, starting with the doll. The Little London kit was a big success and has evolved onto the patchwork squares I am working on at the moment.
We also screen print details onto the kits. I feel this makes the kits especially unique.
Tell me more about your work with NOTH?
I have been on there about 2 ½ years. I first applied and was given feedback that my images needed to be improved. They followed this up a year later, and as I had taken their advice and had better images my work was accepted. It is really good being on there but you need to keep creating new ideas so your work is still fresh and current. Personalised work has been selling well, and sits comfortably alongside other things I do. Christmas is always extremely busy with orders, but I manage to keep on top of things.
Your work has a certain style to it – where do you get your inspiration from?
It is great having a husband who is an artist as there is always stuff lying around the house to look at. I am inspired by vintage magazines, books and textiles, but feel good design needs an element of you in it – something different. Often my eye catches hold of something – usually unexpected. This can come out of the blue – I might mull over an idea and if it sticks for a month then I know it is something to follow.
Collaborations are also good – it takes you to new directions and allows you to grow.
What is your typical working day?
I have a cup of tea in bed, and then check emails and process orders. In the morning I try to get the studio straight as hate working in a mess. Some days I’m kit making, others writing patterns for magazines, prepping for workshops or designing for screens. I try to organize it so certain days are for specific jobs, but that usually goes by wayside if for example an order comes in for personalized bunting.
How do you prefer to work, sketchbook or computer?
Always sketchbook – I have many on the go! I write endless lists.
I have had a peek at your sewing space (and sharing some photos here), and it is rather lovely… tell me about it.
I used run Sewgirl from a front bedroom, designing and teaching from there.
Just over a year ago I had a studio built in our garden and it feels like I have always had it – I couldn’t imagine workshops in my house any more. It is lovely to look in the garden while working and listening to 6Music (which is a big part of my working day).
One downfall of working at home is it can be difficult to separate the two, but it is slightly easier now I have a studio to go to, and the advantages of being based at home outweigh the disadvantages. I try to keep my studio looking current, for example I have a washing line that has inspirational sources or samples for a workshop about to happen.
What do you do when you are not working?
I read a lot and really like biographies. Sewing of course – I make my own clothes and am strict at setting aside specific time for making for myself not work.
What are your plans for the autumn?
Ooh, this will come round quickly!
I am working on a range of patterns featuring coordinated outfits and accessories. There will be more screen-printing – a new “folk” range is coming soon and later in the year a Christmas range of Scandie inspired motifs
I also want to do lots more writing and designing for magazines
What are your sewing essentials?
I love masking tape – I like it as I can write on it and stick it on things to label them, whether it be fabric or paper. I am also in love with this honeycomb fabric I get in Fabricland. It is plastic fabric so doesn’t fray, and I use it for pattern making, particularly trying out paper patterns in 3D.
What are your career highs so far?
It is always good to see your name in print in magazines and books. Doing Pulse (a trade show) and Made (a curated craft fair) were quite pivotal things for me. Also getting the Little London kit into the shop at the Museum of London was quite an achievement.